A day after demonstrating support for the Palestinian plight, Pope Francis on Monday in Jerusalem paid tribute to Jews killed in the Holocaust and in Palestinian terrorist attacks.
In what appeared to be a nod to his Israeli hosts, the Pope changed his morning schedule, adding a stop at a Jerusalem memorial for victims of terrorism.
“I explained to the pope that the security fence prevented many more victims that Palestinian terror, which continues today, planned to harm,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
On Sunday, Francis visited the West Bank separation barrier which many Palestinian decry as it limits their freedom of movement. Israel says the construction of a barrier was necessary to keep militants out of Israel after a spate of Palestinian suicide bombings targeted Israeli civilians during the 1990s.
The image of Pope Francis Sunday bowing his head in prayer and touching a segment of the barrier that is concrete was characterized as “a major PR coup” for the Palestinians, as was his referring to Palestine as a “state” and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a “man of peace.”
At the terror victims memorial on Monday, Francis placed his hands over the names of Israelis killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks and bowed his head in prayer, visually reminiscent of his gesture at the separation barrier a day before.
“The pope had said the trip would steer clear of politics, but it seems he has quickly found himself at the center of a tugging match between Israel and the Palestinians,” the Times of Israel noted.
At a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Francis kissed the hands of a half-dozen survivors of the Nazi genocide.
“Never again, Lord, never again!” Francis said.
“Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man — created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing,” the pope said according to the Associated Press.
Earlier Monday, Francis visited the Dome of the Rock which is situated on top of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest site in Islam. In respect to the Muslim tradition, the pope took off his shoes before entering the mosque.
He was taken around the site by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein who complained to the pope that Israel creates hardships for Palestinians on the site, the Times of Israel reported.
“May we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters!” Francis said. “May we learn to understand the suffering of others! May no one abuse the name of God through violence.”
He concluded his remarks with “Salaam,” Arabic for peace, while in stops with Israeli officials he said “Shalom.”
At the Western Wall, the remaining section of the Second Temple that was destroyed in 70 A.D., Francis paused in prayer and placed a note in one of the wall’s cracks with a prayer as is customary at the site. Media reports said that his note included the text of the prayer “Our Father” in Spanish.
On his Holy Land visit, the pope also appeared to venture in diplomacy, extending an invitation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to visit the Vatican next month to pray for peace. The Israeli presidency is a mostly ceremonial position with no major decision-making powers.
The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks spearheaded by Secretary of State John Kerry broke up without any tangible progress.